by Jude Roy


In the Memphis Greyhound Terminal at 6:00 a.m.,
bodies litter the worn tile floor like victims on a battlefield--
mostly Mexican Americans on their way to minimum wage jobs picking peaches
in Georgia and South Carolina. Children lay across mothers' laps
and suckle from dry wrinkled breasts while mothers stare off into the distance
between terminal walls, perhaps dreaming of pinadas or soft guitar melodies and flowing skirts.
Or maybe they dream of houses with running water and refrigerators like they see on the
televisions of the gringo casas they have cleaned. The men lay with their bodies curled
protectively around their families. Some snore loudly. Those who are awake walk zombie-like
around the terminal, stepping over sprawled bodies, dragging battered luggage--no particular
destination in mind. Others hold their places in lines that do not move. An unenthusiastic
announcer blares out a garbled list of destinations over the hubbub of sleepy chatter,
deep-throated roar of bus engines and the pistol-like explosions of air brakes. A few souls exit
through glass and aluminum doors and disappear in the foggy Memphis morning.


In the Memphis Greyhound Bus Station at 6:00 a.m.,
the restrooms are crowded and smell of piss and shit. A line of sleepy-eyed old men snakes
toward the stalls. One old man, face lost in a sea of wrinkles and pockmarks,
says something in Mexican to the patron of the stall before him. In any language, it is a
desperate plea for haste. Another line, before the rusty urinals, moves faster. The men are
younger; the kidneys empty fast. Someone in the stalls explodes and utters a deep sigh of relief.
The stench of decay and shit attacks the room. "God damn, Viejo," A young man curses and
shakes his dick vigorously. "What the fuck crawled up inside you and died?" Someone laughs.
Another old man who waits in line curses twice, bends over, and shit slowly runs down his leg,
staining his khaki's wet. He falls sitting in it, tears of frustration and anger staining his cheek.


The Greyhound bus tires whistle on the interstate and drones along with the excited chatter
of the young ones. There is hope in their talk of work, of money, of security.
The destination looms ahead like a giant peach, soft, sweet, ripe, ready for eating.
The dark eyes shine; the mouths water. The mothers stare out the bus window
at the countryside whisking them farther and farther away from their homeland
and wonder what this destination will bring: another strange culture to learn and assimilate into:
more hardships: more poverty. But buried deep within them hope seeps into their shriveled
breasts until they see what all mothers see: a roof, a floor, a home for their families..
They offer this to the children like sweet milk. The fathers sit quietly and listen to the miles
tick away underneath them. They fix their dark eyes ahead and do not wonder.
What will be will be. The commitment has been made long ago; the destination set.


The Greyhound bus trip holds no fascination for the old men.
They know that this destination is no different than the others: Los Angeles, California;
Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia.
They are all just garbled destinations uttered by an unenthusiastic gringo station manager
somewhere. Whether they fill baskets with peaches or peppers or the grapes of California,
they are only lining the pockets of the gringo owners. There is only one destination for old men
like them and it is measured in bowel movements.


When a Greyhound bus stops at the destination, it shoots out an explosion
like an old man with too much beans on his stomach. The children and the young climb out first,
chattering loudly about the smell of peaches in the humid Carolina air. They swarm around the
small Greyhound station like ants on a rotten peach. The mothers are next, slow, deliberate,
cautious, clutching the infants to their chests. The fathers follow and point out the rows of peach
trees in the distance. The old men roll cigarettes and find the restrooms. If there was hope,
it is dashed when they are loaded into the late-model Ford Econoline van
and driven along a dusty road to a concentration of broken down shacks and shiny new chain
link fence in the middle of a peach orchard. The mothers clean out the shacks making homes
for their families until the next destination. They dream of pinadas, guitar melodies, and flowing
skirts as they work. The children explore the compound and the fathers start the work
of gathering peaches. The old men sit on the front porch, smoke roll-your-owns
and wait for their next bowel movement. They have been here before.

Jude Roy, a displaced Cajun, teaches Composition and Creative Writing at Southwest Missouri State University. He has published poetry and prose both in print and on the internet.

Four years ago I had to take an overnight ride on a Greyhound Bus to Greenville, South Carolina. When I disembarked at the Memphis bus station I was amazed at how crowded the place was at six o'clock in the morning. Where were all these people going? I struck up a conversation with a young man who explained that most of the families were headed to Georgia and South Carolina for the peach-picking season. The poem is a product of that conversation, combined with my experiences as the son of a sharecropper and several reports I had read earlier about abuses of peachpickers.

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